More than one-third of 13-year-old Alberta boys view Internet porn "too many times to count," and parents have only the vaguest notion about it, a groundbreaking study suggests.
"If you're 13 and you can't put a number on the times (you've used porn), that's a little frightening," University of Alberta researcher Sonya Thompson said Thursday. "I hope parents think about their own values around this stuff and start talking to their kids."
Thompson analyzed responses to an hour-long questionnaire from 429 rural and urban eighth-grade students with a median age of 13.5. She asked about their exposure to and use of sexually explicit material on TV, DVDs, movies and the Internet, as well as about their interaction with their parents about such material.
The Internet was the most common way for kids to get access to porn, with about three-quarters of students reporting such contact.
Boys were more interested than girls — some of them, much more interested. Thompson found almost one-quarter of the boys watched pornographic DVDs or videos "too many times to count" and 35 percent said the same about Internet smut. The corresponding figures for girls were 4 percent and 8 percent.
Nor were those encounters accidental pop-ups on the way to a more benign Web page. Three quarters of the boys and almost half the girls said they deliberately logged on to sexually explicit material.
Parents seemed to impose few restrictions.
Only 13 percent of the students said their homes used blocking technology on computers and TVs. Nearly 60 percent said there were no rules enforced about what type of movies they could watch, and fewer than half said Mom or Dad checked their Internet history.
It also found that rural boys used porn more than their urban counterparts and that they were less likely to discuss the subject with their parents.
The survey is considered accurate to within one percentage point.
Thompson knows there's nothing new about the fascination adolescent boys have for naked women. But she suggests live-action sex on the Web or on DVDs — especially as more extreme acts become more widely available — is a whole new level.
"I think it's different than . . . looking at a static picture in a porn magazine," said Thompson, who specializes in the area of sexual health. "I think it's setting up a disconnect between boys and girls. I wonder how that affects boys' expectations?
"There's this whole subculture of kids and porn. We're not addressing its effects."
Thompson also acknowledges parents are often at a disadvantage compared with their computer-literate kids.
"They're kind of running the show. If your kid has a lot more techno-savvy than you do, it's hard to be the one setting the boundaries for what's coming in."
That means blocking technology, which prevents sexually explicit TV shows or Web pages from appearing on the screen, is only part of the answer. If parents are concerned about what their kids are watching or downloading, they have to monitor it and talk about it, said Thompson.
"Discussion of pornography and rules in the home that are enforced make a difference in kids' overall access, particularly for boys. There's got to be rules and boundaries that are clearly articulated."